Five years ago as part of client project I saw a comic book character and something in me stirred. The idea of adapting the Shahnameh and Rostam as an American comic book jumped out of the air.
The artist was Karl Altstaetter, a young comic book illustrator who had just launched his own comic book Deity and a fledgling publishing company called Hyperwerks. We had hired Karl as an artist for an anti-smoking campaign aimed at teens commissioned by the Chinese American community in San Francisco. Through the medium of a comic book story line we were trying to convince kids not to smoke. It was an excellent project.
As we worked, I mentioned to my partners Jamie (Jamsheed) and Cameron (Kamran of course!) Douraghy that we ought to do our own comic book one day. We laughed. Although we had grown up reading piles of American comic books in Iran during the Seventies, we were after all, in our late thirties and the the dot-com boom was taking up our free time those days. In Farsi class, I had read parts of the Shahnameh, and I remember promising myself to one-day read the whole book.
A couple years ago, after the boom had…well, gone boom, Jamie resurrected the idea with me one day, and he started to talk seriously about the concept. So we talked about it. A lot. He then asked me to write up an outline so he could show Karl. So I grabbed some scans of traditional Shahnameh art, you know the ones I am talking about, those traditional miniature paintings with the small fat bellied horses, the odd perspectives, and the over rouged cheeks and eyshadowed Rostam.
A couple of weeks later Karl had drawn some rough sketches and we were speechless. And we were hooked on the idea.
We began concepting weapons, armor, architecture and stylization, while Karl refined the characters. This took almost a whole year to finalize the look of everything. Meanwhile, I began to tweak and fine tune the story.
I wanted to pick a tale that was hard hitting and decided to begin the book in the middle of the Shahnameh, rather than at the beginning. It was kind of an obvious Star Wars-esque approach, but fitting, given the huge risk we were taking. I re-read the story of Rostam and Sohrab in both Farsi as well as several English translations and felt I had my basic storyline.
Because of the format, story, and character rules of the American comic book genre, we decided we had to take some creative license and might not be able to stick to the literal story exactly. As it turned out, we are pretty close, but it is virtually impossible to match Ferdowsi's brilliance. So the disclaimer was written early on! This is an adaptation.
My goal was to write a book that young primarily English speaking Iranians could read, and easily get the gist of the Shahnameh, and one that was overview enough so that parents would be forced to fill in the blanks. Hopefully a healthy dialogue would ensue and we would all be one step closer. Tighter.
This seems to have worked, when I showed the book to my 12 year old son, he has since asked me about the other stories of the Shahnameh, and we have been discussing it regularly.
What we have done now is to set the stage for a full comic book series, based on the many stories in the Shahnameh. But first things first!
For now we are happy to introduce you to the newest American comic book hero, Rostam! We sincerely hope you enjoy it. We love doing it, and hope we can produce more of the wealth of stories of the Shahnameh for the readers in the future.